'Syrian army is likely to splinter'

Khaled Nour, Monday 2 May 2011

Gun battles between Syrian brigades and huge number of Baathists resigning this weekend signal what political activist and author tells Ahram Online: that the military is likely to splinter

A truck is seen carrying Syrian soldiers in Damascus, Friday, (Reuters).

The count of members of the Syria's ruling Baath party that have resigned as of this weekend is up to 233. The members from regions as far south as Huran and as far north as Banyas broke ranks over how “security forces are dealing with protesters.” This is the most since Syria’s secession from the Egyptian unity pact in 1961.

Although some of these members had supported President Al-Bashar’s regime, even after the revolution began, they have always condemned the greed of the ruling elite of mostly Alawites and their monopoly of national wealth through rampant corruption in all corners of Syria.

What is an even more critical issue are clashes between army units, which have, thus far, been limited to areas surrounding the city of Deraa. The Fourth Brigade of the Republican Guard led by Maher Al-Assad, brother of President Bashar Al-Assad, exchanged fire with the Fifth Brigade, which is mostly deployed in Al-Sowaida Governorate on the border with Israel.

“The Syrian army is likely to splinter,” Tammam Al-Barazi, a political activist and author of The Syrian Opposition and the Assad Regime, told Ahram Online. “The army is mostly made up of Sunnis, but the leaders (generals) are Alawites. Meanwhile, the Republican Guard is mostly Alawites under the leadership of Maher, Bashar’s brother.”

Syria is home to a large number of religious sects, the majority being Sunni (Arabs and Kurds) which represent 74 per cent of the population; non-Sunni sects are 15 per cent of the country, with the majority being Alawites; followed by Druze and Ismailiya sects; Christians represent 10 per cent; Azadis, Jews and other minorities make up less than 1 per cent of the population.

The Alawites have ruled Syria since 1970 when then Minister of Defence Hafez Al-Assad led a military coup, and imposed an oppressive regime in a country which had been ruled by 14 presidents before him since independence from France in 1943.

Ma’n Hasbani, a member of the Syrian opposition, noted that the latest clashes could explain why there are no injuries in army ranks, contrary to constant claims by the government that army officers and soldiers sustained injuries. “The regime itself killed the majority of these men,” Hasbani claimed, “because they refused to fire at protestors.”

Anonymous eye witnesses told news agencies and news channels about the death of army members who refused to open fire at demonstrators and were killed by supporters of the Baathist regime.

“We believe that despite everything, the army is a national institution and we are betting on it,” stated Wael Hafez, the political coordinator of the National Front for Change in Syria. “We have information from inside Syria that tens of soldiers deployed in rural and remote areas, far from major cities, have fled their posts. I expect this number to climb. The regime fears foreign pressure because this would encourage many officers to side with the people, and this would overthrow Assad.”

But will the support of the army result in an outcome similar to what is taking place in Egypt and Tunisia, or a civil war or armed revolution similar to the case in Libya? The answer, of course, depends on the balance of power between the regime and the revolution.

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